HOT: Saluministi, 8 Atkins St, North Melbourne

Saluministi 8 Atkins St North Melbourne HOT: Saluministi, 8 Atkins St, North Melbourne

Saluminsti is an Italian-style warehouse cafe in North Melbourne, hidden at the intersection of two cobblestone laneways.

Saluministi 8 Atkins St North Melbourne 1 HOT: Saluministi, 8 Atkins St, North Melbourne

Saluminsti is a labour of love for Frank, one of the co-owners, despite being a pop up for only 12 months (at this stage) as it sits at the back of the building that’s slated to be turned into apartments.

Saluministi 8 Atkins St North Melbourne 10 HOT: Saluministi, 8 Atkins St, North Melbourne

Frank fitted out the warehouse kitchen, storage and dining space all himself and he’s passionate about the food at Saluminsti. It has an authentic honesty about it and it turns out that all of the recipes on the simple menu are from Frank’s family. He wanted to bring to diners the sort of food that he grew up with and he’s taken these traditional dishes and given them a modern twist. My Italian companion remarked on how many of the dishes she also remembered from her childhood.

Saluministi 8 Atkins St North Melbourne 3 HOT: Saluministi, 8 Atkins St, North Melbourne

Currently the menu has three ciabatta options – a melt-in-the-mouth free range porchetta stuffed with artichoke paste, rocket and shaved pecorino ($12), a cotoletta just like nonna’s with a vincotto mayo, Italian coleslaw and provolone ($12) and a slightly spicy pork and fennel sausage with roasted peperonata and pecorino ($11).

Saluministi 8 Atkins St North Melbourne 5 HOT: Saluministi, 8 Atkins St, North Melbourne

The ciabatta is quite remarkable – pillowy and soft and not so crusty it hurts your mouth. Frank wouldn’t divulge his secret supplier but did wax lyrical about the 36 hour proven dough and stone-baked bread.

Saluministi 8 Atkins St North Melbourne 6 HOT: Saluministi, 8 Atkins St, North Melbourne

The smallgoods hanging in the fridge are currently for show only – until they’re cooked they can’t be sold. It’s worth ordering the Salsiccia ciabatta just so you can try the pork and fennel sausage. Later the plan is to retail and wholesale the salumi and to run sausage-making and salami-making classes.

Saluministi 8 Atkins St North Melbourne 4 HOT: Saluministi, 8 Atkins St, North Melbourne

We accompanied our sandwiches with a cup of patate fritte, crispy chips zhuzhed up with fresh herbs and reggiano ($5).

Saluministi 8 Atkins St North Melbourne 2 HOT: Saluministi, 8 Atkins St, North Melbourne

The coffee is made with Italy’s favourite Lavazza and the cafetiere is a bargain – a traditional Neapolitan-style 2 cup with a syrupy crema on the bottom could easily satisfy 3 or 4 people and it comes with some sweet biscotti on the side for only $5.

Saluministi 8 Atkins St North Melbourne 9 HOT: Saluministi, 8 Atkins St, North Melbourne

Finally, try the sugar encrusted bomboloni, made fresh every day on site. These are Italian-style doughnuts so a bit denser than the standard American-style doughnut, but still very light.

Saluministi 8 Atkins St North Melbourne 7 HOT: Saluministi, 8 Atkins St, North Melbourne

Both the Nutella and slightly citrus crema paticcera are delicious.

Saluministi 8 Atkins St North Melbourne 8 HOT: Saluministi, 8 Atkins St, North Melbourne

Saluminsti is a small Italian gem hidden in North Melbourne, a place brimming with enthusiasm and passion while serving up some authentic, old school Italian goodness. Buon appetito!

Saluminsti, 8 Atkins St, North Melbourne 0413 082 253

Tue-Sun 7:30am-4pm

 HOT: Saluministi, 8 Atkins St, North Melbourne

HOT: Din Tai Fung, Emporium Melbourne, Level 4, 287 Lonsdale St, Melbourne

Din Tai Fung Emporium Melbourne Level 4 287 Lonsdale St Melbourne 10 HOT: Din Tai Fung, Emporium Melbourne, Level 4, 287 Lonsdale St, Melbourne

Melbourne dumpling-lovers, start your engines. Din Tai Fung Melbourne has arrived.

This famous, and long-awaited, restaurant chain has taken up the whole of level 4 inside Emporium Melbourne. You can’t miss the entrance as there will be crowd of hungry people outside.
Din Tai Fung Emporium Melbourne Level 4 287 Lonsdale St Melbourne 9 HOT: Din Tai Fung, Emporium Melbourne, Level 4, 287 Lonsdale St, Melbourne

Inside the decor is a surprising combination of Scandi-chic with an Asian sensibility designed by Design Clarity.

Din Tai Fung Emporium Melbourne Level 4 287 Lonsdale St Melbourne 7 HOT: Din Tai Fung, Emporium Melbourne, Level 4, 287 Lonsdale St, Melbourne

It’s not often you spot filament lights in Asian restaurants and they combine together with other ‘hipster-cafe’ features such as an abundance of blonde wood, a long retro blue banquette, curved lines and wall-hanging greenery.

Din Tai Fung Emporium Melbourne Level 4 287 Lonsdale St Melbourne 8 HOT: Din Tai Fung, Emporium Melbourne, Level 4, 287 Lonsdale St, Melbourne

Particularly Asian elements still creep in though – waiters wield bag stands to protect your handbags and shopping and coat covers for the back of your chair.

Din Tai Fung Emporium Melbourne Level 4 287 Lonsdale St Melbourne 6 HOT: Din Tai Fung, Emporium Melbourne, Level 4, 287 Lonsdale St, Melbourne

You order by ticking off a paper menu with over a hundred items. Daunted, I call my (Chinese) mother to provide ordering advice (though there is a picture menu available to assist). She says ‘every visit to Din Tai Fung would not be complete without their famous xiao long bao’.

Din Tai Fung Emporium Melbourne Level 4 287 Lonsdale St Melbourne 1 HOT: Din Tai Fung, Emporium Melbourne, Level 4, 287 Lonsdale St, Melbourne

These darling 18-times pleated soup dumplings (6 for $10.80) are made by an army of mask-clad chefs in the large kitchen and then carried in a sky-high tower of bamboo steamers to be distributed to expectant folk.

Din Tai Fung Emporium Melbourne Level 4 287 Lonsdale St Melbourne 2 HOT: Din Tai Fung, Emporium Melbourne, Level 4, 287 Lonsdale St, Melbourne

Din Tai Fung’s XLB are superb. The weight of the piping hot broth, the thin pouch of dumpling skin, the the perfect balance of texture and flavour, all go towards making these some of the best xiao long bao you’ll find anywhere in the world. What’s amazing is the consistency of the product – I’ve had Din Tai Fung’s XLB in Sydney, Hong Kong and Shanghai and each time they send me into a food orgasm.

Din Tai Fung Emporium Melbourne Level 4 287 Lonsdale St Melbourne 3 HOT: Din Tai Fung, Emporium Melbourne, Level 4, 287 Lonsdale St, Melbourne

Din Tai Fung are also famous for their noodles, and my mum suggested trying the braised beef noodle soup ($16.80). It’s a steaming bowl consisting of a fat wad of handmade noodles sitting underneath four slices of beef shank in a flavoursome broth. The pliable noodles are a highlight though the beef could be more tender.

Din Tai Fung Emporium Melbourne Level 4 287 Lonsdale St Melbourne 4 HOT: Din Tai Fung, Emporium Melbourne, Level 4, 287 Lonsdale St, Melbourne

Finally, I try one of their steamed buns ($3). The vegetarian bun comes so beautifully pleated I don’t want to touch it. I take a bite and discover the fluffiest of pillows with a loose mixture of shredded vegetables and mushrooms nestled inside.

Din Tai Fung Emporium Melbourne Level 4 287 Lonsdale St Melbourne 5 HOT: Din Tai Fung, Emporium Melbourne, Level 4, 287 Lonsdale St, Melbourne

Din Tai Fung may be a global restaurant chain but it’s one that’s of consistently high quality and reasonably priced. It’s an exciting addition to Chinese dining in Melbourne and it was telling that on my visit 95% of the patrons were Asian, young and old. It’s safe to say they know a good dumpling when they eat it (and are willing to line up for it).

My final tip is to arrive 5-10 minutes before opening time. The kitchen is quick but each table still takes around 45 minutes to turn around. So if you miss the first tranche of the 230-odd seats you’ll have to hang around salivating over your paper menu until there’s room.

Din Tai Fung, Emporium Melbourne, Level 4, 287 Lonsdale St, Melbourne 9654 1876

Mon-Wed 11.30-2.30pm, 5.30-9pm

Thu-Fri 11.30-2.30pm, 5-10pm

Sat 11-3pm, 5-10pm

Sun 11-3pm, 5-9pm

 HOT: Din Tai Fung, Emporium Melbourne, Level 4, 287 Lonsdale St, Melbourne

HOT: Smith & Deli, 111 Moor St, Fitzroy

Smith Deli 111 Moor St Fitzroy 6 HOT: Smith & Deli, 111 Moor St, Fitzroy

The owners of popular vegan restaurant Smith & Daughters in Fitzroy have now branched out to a delightful Jewish-inspired deli just around the corner on Moor Street. Dubbed Smith & Deli, the new-age convenience store will be a haven for vegans, vegetarians and curious omnivores.

Smith Deli 111 Moor St Fitzroy 1 HOT: Smith & Deli, 111 Moor St, Fitzroy

Smith & Deli is housed in an old brick factory and I love the retro feel to the place, from the mint-green furnishings thanks to Callum Preston (who also designed Smith & Daughters) to the 50s rock tunes.

Smith Deli 111 Moor St Fitzroy 12 HOT: Smith & Deli, 111 Moor St, Fitzroy

Smith Deli 111 Moor St Fitzroy 5 HOT: Smith & Deli, 111 Moor St, Fitzroy

The store’s focus is on take away food, provisions, fresh produce and take-home meals and the shelves and cabinets simply groan with neat rows of tempting food.

Smith Deli 111 Moor St Fitzroy 4 HOT: Smith & Deli, 111 Moor St, Fitzroy

Smith Deli 111 Moor St Fitzroy 3 HOT: Smith & Deli, 111 Moor St, Fitzroy

I was invited to visit Smith & Deli ahead of their official opening this Tuesday 16 June and had a lot of fun sampling their goods. I should preface my comments with the fact that I’m not vegan – so I’m comparing vegan dishes with their non-vegan originals. If you are limited to vegan choices then I think Smith & Deli will be a gastronomical broadening of horizons. If you’re not vegan, it’ll be eye-opening though in some cases I admit I’d prefer to eat the non-vegan versions.

Smith Deli 111 Moor St Fitzroy 2 HOT: Smith & Deli, 111 Moor St, Fitzroy

I was offered a pre-made lunch box to try ($15) consisting of a half a Reuben sandwich, a noodle salad and a slice of apple crumble slice. I also gave way to temptation to buy up their baked goods – a croissant, doughnut, dill pretzel, passionfruit tart, honey cake and challah.

The highlights were the spongy glazed doughnut with ‘custard’, the surprisingly flaky croissant and the bready but not too chewy dill pretzel. Let’s just say they got the tick of approval from a 4 year old omnivore!

Smith Deli 111 Moor St Fitzroy 8 HOT: Smith & Deli, 111 Moor St, Fitzroy

I didn’t love the dry pastry of the passionfruit tart though the filling was creamy and sweet or I’d much prefer the chunky meatiness of a proper Reuben sandwich.

Smith Deli 111 Moor St Fitzroy 11 HOT: Smith & Deli, 111 Moor St, Fitzroy

Intrigued by the possibility of a vegan take home meal I bought a ready made pastrami pizza and margherita pizza ($16 each). The pizza base was light and fluffy and the flavours were true – it was just the curious un-melted texture of the ‘cheese’ which signalled its vegan origins. My kids loved it…but give me mozzarella instead.

Smith Deli 111 Moor St Fitzroy 10 HOT: Smith & Deli, 111 Moor St, Fitzroy

There’s no seating on site so it’s strictly take-away service. Whitlam Square and Condell Reserve all offer nice places to sit and eat and if you’re studying in Fitzroy Library it’s just a handy diagonal stride across Moor Street.

Smith & Deli is a unique concept – a friendly grocery store where dishes have been converted to plant-based fare without sacrificing flavour. I did think in some cases the texture of meat and dairy simply couldn’t be replicated, but I’m curious enough to return, especially for the house-made vegan pastrami and salami (their slicer wasn’t working yet).

Smith & Deli, 111 Moor St, Fitzroy

Tue-Sun 8am-7pm

Opening Tuesday 16 June 2015

 HOT: Smith & Deli, 111 Moor St, Fitzroy

HOT: Lygon Food Store, 263 Lygon Street, Carlton

Lygon Food Store 263 Lygon Street Carlton 1 HOT: Lygon Food Store, 263 Lygon Street, Carlton

Lygon Food Store was a pioneer in Melbourne in the 1950s. This iconic Carlton cafe and food store opened 63 years ago as one of the first suppliers of imported products from Italy and it was the first shop in Lygon Street to serve Lavazza coffee.

Lygon Food Store 263 Lygon Street Carlton 7 HOT: Lygon Food Store, 263 Lygon Street, Carlton

This unpretentious establishment has long been a favourite with uni students and academics for a casual breakfast or a hearty lunch.

Lygon Food Store 263 Lygon Street Carlton 4 HOT: Lygon Food Store, 263 Lygon Street, Carlton

Their huge ciabattas and baguettes are excellent value (all under $10) and the glass cabinet holds a rotating mouth-watering selection of Italian meals, soups and salads.

Lygon Food Store 263 Lygon Street Carlton 9 HOT: Lygon Food Store, 263 Lygon Street, Carlton

The cartoccio, an oval mass of pizza dough, squidgy mozzarella and laden to overflowing with antipasti and charcuterie, is one of their specialities. It’s big enough to share between two or three, making it an economical lunch for $14.50.

Lygon Food Store 263 Lygon Street Carlton 3 HOT: Lygon Food Store, 263 Lygon Street, Carlton

About a month ago Lygon Food Store opened its doors for dinner on Thursday to Sunday evenings.

I was invited to sample some of the dinner menu, which has an emphasis on Southern Italian cuisine mainly from Puglia, the region that owner Pasquale Coco knows best. Some of the recipes are from his family, some have been devised by Pasquale who is also the chef.

Lygon Food Store 263 Lygon Street Carlton 2 HOT: Lygon Food Store, 263 Lygon Street, Carlton

The highlight of the preview was the serves of pasta and the risotto Milanese, all cooked al dente and adorned with the simplest of sauces to highlight the freshness of the ingredients. All the pastas and stone fired pizzas are under $20.

Lygon Food Store 263 Lygon Street Carlton 6 HOT: Lygon Food Store, 263 Lygon Street, Carlton

There are just four main dishes to choose from – a veal osso bucco, rockling fillet, crunchy eggplant polpetta with spicy caponata and couscous and in a nod to on-trend ingredients, a light quinoa salad. Again, each of the mains was very reasonably priced under $30.

Lygon Food Store 263 Lygon Street Carlton 5 HOT: Lygon Food Store, 263 Lygon Street, Carlton

While bright new eateries ensure that Lygon Street is ever-evolving it’s always nice to revisit old favourites. Lygon Food Store is a Melbourne institution for a reason and now you can enjoy their wares (and do your deli shopping) morning, noon and night.

Lygon Food Store, 263 Lygon Street, Carlton 03 9347 6279

Monday – Wednesday, 7am – 6pm
Thursday – Sunday, 7am – 10pm

 HOT: Lygon Food Store, 263 Lygon Street, Carlton

HOT: Touche Hombre, 233 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

Touche Hombre 233 Lonsdale Street Melbourne 6 HOT: Touche Hombre, 233 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

In a city that’s chock full of Mexican restaurants, what makes Touche Hombre special?

For me, it’s the fun atmosphere, punchy flavours and super-quick service right in the heart of the city. I call it ‘Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am Mexican’.

Touche Hombre 233 Lonsdale Street Melbourne 4 HOT: Touche Hombre, 233 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

The interior is all laneway brashness, with exposed brick, concrete, bar stools and kitschy touches. The hip hop playlist was from my era!

Touche Hombre 233 Lonsdale Street Melbourne 9 HOT: Touche Hombre, 233 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

I was invited to try their new menu which launched earlier this month in time for their third birthday. It’s pretty much the same Mexican-for-gringos street food that you know and love and it all goes well with their Mexican cocktails. The zesty Tommy’s Margarita is their signature but I personally liked their icy horchata.

Touche Hombre HOT: Touche Hombre, 233 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

I think the best way to tackle the menu is just to go with the chef’s selection. For a very reasonable $40 you’ll be filled up with 1 Street Corn, 1 Starter, 3 Tacos and 1 Dessert.

Dive straight into the Touche fried chicken, spiced up with habanero cream and lime ($10/$25). The crunchy outer coating made with maize flour was a popcorn party in the mouth though I’d be sparing with the cream and generous with the lime to cut through the richness.

Touche Hombre 233 Lonsdale Street Melbourne 2 HOT: Touche Hombre, 233 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

The spicy lamb ribs with merquin, coriander and honey ($13) were tender but far too fatty for our tastes so it was our least successful dish on the night.

Touche Hombre 233 Lonsdale Street Melbourne 1 HOT: Touche Hombre, 233 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

Our plate of tostaditos (or crisp mini tortillas) had one of everything – blue crab, chicken tinga, tuna and pumpkin. The Asian-inspired tuna with candied peanuts, soy and black sesame was my favourite though of course the least authentic.

Touche Hombre 233 Lonsdale Street Melbourne 3 HOT: Touche Hombre, 233 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

Next up, 6” soft shell tacos.  I highly recommend you douse them in hot sauce if you need a kick as I found the flavours of both the slow cooked pork cheek, habanero cream and BBQ corn salsa ($6.50) and the Chimichurri Chicken with melted Egmont cheese, toasted pepitas and coriander aioli ($6) quite mild. Other taco fillings include prawn, haloumi, fish and meatballs and the fillings are replicated in the burritos selection as well.

Touche Hombre 233 Lonsdale Street Melbourne 5 HOT: Touche Hombre, 233 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

Dessert veers away from Latin flavours to ice cream sandwiches and doughnuts. We tried the chocolate, chilli and peanut butter parfait ($8) which had negligible chilli in it, so I say turn it up! The biscuit was also rock hard so the whole dish was a bit difficult to eat.

Touche Hombre has obviously carved out a niche in Melbourne’s Mexican wave as it was jumping on a Tuesday night. The dishes we tried veered from OMG amazing to ho hum in my nitpicking opinion, but add a few drinks and the rapid friendly service it’s a great way to kickstart a fun night out – you can even head right next door to Burro Teca (Donkey Disco, I kid you not)!

Touche Hombre 233 Lonsdale Street Melbourne 8 HOT: Touche Hombre, 233 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

Touche Hombre, 233 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne (03) 9663 0811

Mon to Sat 12:00 pm – late

 HOT: Touche Hombre, 233 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

HOT: Queensberry Pour House, 210 Queensberry St, Carlton

Queensberry Pour House 210 Queensberry St Carlton 1 HOT: Queensberry Pour House, 210 Queensberry St, Carlton

Queensberry Pour House in Carlton is the kind of cosy hangout I wish I’d had back when I was a uni student.

While my uni days are long behind me now, I can still pretend I’m part of the cool crowd that use Queensberry Pour House for their caffeine fix, meetings and a quiet study session.

Queensberry Pour House 210 Queensberry St Carlton 5 HOT: Queensberry Pour House, 210 Queensberry St, Carlton

The small cafe is on the corner of a main street but it still feels tucked away, its whitewashed facade dwarfed by the modern steely colours of surrounding high rises. The place has a quaint, handmade feel to it and it turns out that the couple who own the cafe made their own ceramics and hand built much of the cafe’s furniture. I particularly love the distinctive sideboard now cash register and their bone-handled cutlery.

Queensberry Pour House 210 Queensberry St Carlton 4 HOT: Queensberry Pour House, 210 Queensberry St, Carlton

The coffee (black, white or short) is a rotating selection of single origin coffee that is roasted on-site every Sunday. The filter coffee is bottomless!

For non-coffee drinkers they make their own nut milk so it’s worth trying the nut milk smoothie ($7) with different flavours every week. Mine was green smoothie, a sweet and creamy concoction of spinach, kale, banana and nut milk.

Queensberry Pour House 210 Queensberry St Carlton 2 HOT: Queensberry Pour House, 210 Queensberry St, Carlton

The menu takes a simple and healthy approach. I go for the grazing bowl with a mixture of quinoa, chunky tabbouleh, roasted capsicum, smoky hummus and labne ($15.50). You can choose to add a soft-boiled paprika spiced egg for an extra $2.

Queensberry Pour House 210 Queensberry St Carlton 6 HOT: Queensberry Pour House, 210 Queensberry St, Carlton

I also try the mushroom toastie, inexplicably called the ‘Vladwich’. It’s a melting squish of provolone, grano padano, spinach, field and enoki mushrooms, spiked together with a jaunty pickle ($12.50).

The sweets cabinet was very enticing, with fresh cakes and biscuits coming straight out of the oven a few steps away. I dithered over the coconut muffin ($4) but decided that my stomach couldn’t handle any more.

Queensberry Pour House is a cafe full of cosy charm, a place to linger or hunker down with the books. The owners made and work in the place, and that care and consideration shows in the end result.

Queensberry Pour House, 210 Queensberry St, Carlton 03 9347 1277

Monday to Friday: 7am – 4pm

Saturday: 8am – 3pm

Closed Sunday

minilink HOT: Queensberry Pour House, 210 Queensberry St, Carlton

HOT: Mjr Tom, 108 Smith Street, Collingwood

Mjr Tom 108 Smith Street Collingwood 1 HOT: Mjr Tom, 108 Smith Street, Collingwood

To stand out in Melbourne’s competitive dining out industry, you’ve really got to have a signature dish, something that gets Instagrammed to death. At Mjr Tom, Collingwood’s latest cafe/bar, that dish has got to be a banana hot dog.

Yes, you read right!

Before we get into this intriguing dish, a few things you should know about Mjr Tom. It’s an all-day eatery and bar that’s split into three areas for whatever mood you’re in.

Mjr Tom 108 Smith Street Collingwood 10 HOT: Mjr Tom, 108 Smith Street, Collingwood

At the front is a small front area with the coffee station and simply framed seating nooks that give the space a Zen-like Japanese aesthetic.

Mjr Tom 108 Smith Street Collingwood 11 HOT: Mjr Tom, 108 Smith Street, Collingwood

Head back and there’s a lofty area housing a central bar with seating plus inviting booths that are surprisingly sunny despite being eye-level with the apartment block that overlooks the narrow laneway.

Mjr Tom 108 Smith Street Collingwood 2 HOT: Mjr Tom, 108 Smith Street, Collingwood

The booths are the best seats in the house, and the raw plywood, corrugated metal and greenery that adorn the space give it an outside-inside feel.

Mjr Tom 108 Smith Street Collingwood 4 HOT: Mjr Tom, 108 Smith Street, Collingwood

Mjr Tom 108 Smith Street Collingwood 3 HOT: Mjr Tom, 108 Smith Street, Collingwood

Downstairs is the bluestone basement and private dining room, with a spanking new pool table and high stools and tables.

Mjr Tom 108 Smith Street Collingwood 9 HOT: Mjr Tom, 108 Smith Street, Collingwood

The menu is eclectic, to say the least, with breakfast available 8am-3pm and lunch from 12pm. I count Asian, Latin, American and Italian influences –  then there’s that banana hot dog.

The dish is a roasted banana split into two and topped with bacon lardons, grated smoked scamorza, two banana-shaped garnishes cut from arepa, tomato marmalade.

Mjr Tom 108 Smith Street Collingwood 6 HOT: Mjr Tom, 108 Smith Street, Collingwood

It’s a fun and tasty dish, albeit a bit gimmicky (and amusingly phallic). Ingredients like Brazil Nut get lost in amongst the heat from the green chili and coriander salsa and the riot of other flavours. The only reason I wouldn’t order it again is because it’s $17.50 for what is essentially one tricked up banana fritter and I was still hungry afterwards.

Mjr Tom 108 Smith Street Collingwood 8 HOT: Mjr Tom, 108 Smith Street, Collingwood

If you’re after a breakfast classic with a twist then try the granola, which is also a more reasonable $12. It’s a chunky mixture of nuts, seeds and fresh berries surrounding a wobbly buffalo milk pannacotta and a slightly tart yoghurt sorbet. The texture of the pannacotta is perfect though I would have liked more flavour in it.

Mjr Tom 108 Smith Street Collingwood 7 HOT: Mjr Tom, 108 Smith Street, Collingwood

Lunch options include fish tacos and beef-cheek empanadas and an Asian chicken burger. C’s Israeli pearl cous cous salad ($14.50) is chock full of cucmber, zucchini, mint, herbs and nuts with a ball of labne rolled in black sesame on the side. It’s fresh and light but unless you’re vegetarian you’ll need the chunks of bacalao (extra $4) for flavour and protein.

The coffee is imported from Italian roaster Romcaffe and was smooth and creamy. The chai, while beautifully presented in crockery that reminded me of volcanic rock, was too watery in both texture and flavour.

Mjr Tom 108 Smith Street Collingwood 5 HOT: Mjr Tom, 108 Smith Street, Collingwood

Mjr Tom in the daytime is a relaxing place to hang out and its global menu means that there’s plenty of choice. At night I imagine it’ll be a fun place to eat and drink, making it a great addition to the Smith Street scene.

Mjr Tom, 108 Smith Street, Collingwood (03) 9419 8048

Daily 8am–1am

minilink HOT: Mjr Tom, 108 Smith Street, Collingwood

 

HOT: Small French Bar, Shop 3, 154 Barkly St, Footscray

Small French Bar Shop 3 154 Barkly St Footscray 10 HOT: Small French Bar, Shop 3, 154 Barkly St, Footscray

The layers of immigration that make Footscray such a fascinating place have now placed Small French Bar, a French fromagerie, charcuterie and cafe (and later wine bar) on the main street.

Small French Bar Shop 3 154 Barkly St Footscray 6 HOT: Small French Bar, Shop 3, 154 Barkly St, Footscray

It’s a small storefront set incongruously amongst the pho joints, wig shops and money exchange offices and you’ll just be able to spot it with the help of a little snail over the door.

Small French Bar Shop 3 154 Barkly St Footscray 4 HOT: Small French Bar, Shop 3, 154 Barkly St, Footscray

Stephane Armentano is a new Footscray local and comes to Melbourne via a successful tapas bar in Fremantle. The space inside the Royal Hotel redevelopment has been completely rebuilt by Stephane and his family and transformed into what he hopes will become a little community bar like those in most French villages.

Small French Bar Shop 3 154 Barkly St Footscray 5 HOT: Small French Bar, Shop 3, 154 Barkly St, Footscray

The sweetly humble space is a Gallic haven. French music plays gently in the background and the small menu is available throughout the day, every day.

Small French Bar Shop 3 154 Barkly St Footscray 7 HOT: Small French Bar, Shop 3, 154 Barkly St, Footscray

Start your day with a bargain $5 croissant and coffee or French hot chocolate.

Small French Bar Shop 3 154 Barkly St Footscray 1 HOT: Small French Bar, Shop 3, 154 Barkly St, Footscray

The croissants and pain au chocolat are wafer crisp on the outside and so very airy on the inside – and it turns out that they have been made with French butter and other French ingredients and come direct from France (par-baked), along with the baguettes.

Small French Bar Shop 3 154 Barkly St Footscray 3 HOT: Small French Bar, Shop 3, 154 Barkly St, Footscray

Stephane simply couldn’t find the consistency in quality in any products here so for the moment you can enjoy these treats as if you were in the streets of Paris.

Small French Bar Shop 3 154 Barkly St Footscray 2 HOT: Small French Bar, Shop 3, 154 Barkly St, Footscray

For a main meal try the home made duck confit ($18), a moist maryland of duck with meat that falls off the bone and served with creamy potatoes dauphinois and steamed green beans. It’s an authentic brasserie meal which will warm your cockles in winter. You may see confit duck legs for sale in the near future, along with the  existing selection of French cheeses and charcuterie.

Small French Bar Shop 3 154 Barkly St Footscray 8 HOT: Small French Bar, Shop 3, 154 Barkly St, Footscray

To end don’t miss the house made chocolate fondant. The weight of the vanilla ice cream helps the melting chocolate centre flow out from the shell and it’s a luxurious treat for only $8.

Small French Bar Shop 3 154 Barkly St Footscray 9 HOT: Small French Bar, Shop 3, 154 Barkly St, Footscray

At the moment opening hours are still in testing mode as Small French Bar is a one-man operation. Generally you can expect the cafe to be open from 10-4pm every day, sometimes opening earlier, sometimes closing later. The liquor license will hopefully come through in a few months so there will be an authentic wine bar in Footscray!

Small French Bar is a lovely neighbourhood addition and Stephane has obviously put his heart and soul into this venture so go support him!

Starting next Tuesday there will also be a regular French conversation class. From June 2 meet at Small French Bar  7pm till 9pm for charcuterie, cheese plate and a tete-a-tete. Limited tickets available, ring Stefan 0402952078.

Small French Bar, Shop 3, 154 Barkly St, Footscray 0402952078

Open 7 days 10am-5pm

 HOT: Small French Bar, Shop 3, 154 Barkly St, Footscray

HOT: Shifty Chevre, 375 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

Shifty Chevre 375 Brunswick St Fitzroy 8 HOT: Shifty Chevre, 375 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

Brunswick Street Fitzroy is saturated with eateries, but it’s only till recently that it’s gotten its own wine and cheese bar. Bienvenue Shifty Chevre!

The French-themed cheese haven opened late last year but only recently got its liquor licence. The licence means it can now serve cheese with its natural partner, wine, and they have started opening evenings. I was invited to sample their dinner menu.

Shifty Chevre 375 Brunswick St Fitzroy 3 HOT: Shifty Chevre, 375 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

Shifty Chevre has been opened by three young friends who decided to build a bar entirely based around cheese and make it the key ingredient to everything on the menu. The front counter displays a rotating selection of around 25 local and imported cheese, with the best-selling being brie. They also stock crackers, pastes, and cheese accessories (who knew a Jesus Grater existed?)

Shifty Chevre 375 Brunswick St Fitzroy 2 HOT: Shifty Chevre, 375 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

What they’ve built is a country-chic eatery in what used to be a clothing store. The natural tones, dim lighting, comfy couches and cute courtyard are an extension of your favourite friend’s home.

Shifty Chevre 375 Brunswick St Fitzroy 6 HOT: Shifty Chevre, 375 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

In summer you can order a cheese takeaway box and take it for a picnic at nearby Edinburgh Gardens. But personally I think the winter is the more perfect time to visit Shifty Chevre because everything on the menu is based cheese that’s been baked, grilled or melted (there’s no stove in the small kitchen).

Shifty Chevre 375 Brunswick St Fitzroy 4 HOT: Shifty Chevre, 375 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

They even have a raclette on the menu, an item I haven’t eaten since visiting the French Alps. If you love cheese then this a must-try dish! Melt the oozy cheese over charcuterie, potatoes and bread and you’ll be set for the night.

Shifty Chevre 375 Brunswick St Fitzroy 5 HOT: Shifty Chevre, 375 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

The tartiflette, another Savoie dish I haven’t seen in a while, comes bubbling out of its ramekin. This comforting combination of baked potato, onion and bacon dish with melted French cheese will warm you from the inside out.

Sadly I didn’t have room for dessert but I’m told the tiramisu is excellent. Other sweet options include a cheesecake and pannacotta.

Just one last mention of the stunning bathrooms. It’s one of the few times I’ve taken my camera to the loo because this changing room transformed into goat mural/fernery has to be seen to be believed!

Shifty Chevre 375 Brunswick St Fitzroy 7 HOT: Shifty Chevre, 375 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

Shifty Chevre will be the stuff of my (cheese) dreams this winter. Who am I to dis a brie?

Shifty Chevre 375 Brunswick St Fitzroy 1 HOT: Shifty Chevre, 375 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

Shifty Chevre, 375 Brunswick St, Fitzroy 0423 694 763

Wed    12pm – 11pm

Thu – Fri 12pm – late

Sat        9am – late

Sun       9am – 11pm

minilink HOT: Shifty Chevre, 375 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

HOT: The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, 8 Raffa Place, Carlton

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink 8 Raffa Place Carlton 2 HOT: The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, 8 Raffa Place, Carlton

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink is a handsome cafe hidden in a laneway – behind a laneway – next to a servo in Carlton.

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink 8 Raffa Place Carlton 3 HOT: The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, 8 Raffa Place, Carlton

While the entrance to the former horse stables is small (and positively teeny tiny when they only open the bolthole in wet weather) once you get inside it’s like the Tardis.

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink 8 Raffa Place Carlton 11 HOT: The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, 8 Raffa Place, Carlton

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink 8 Raffa Place Carlton 8 HOT: The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, 8 Raffa Place, Carlton

 A busy coffee bar greets you, then you walk back a bit further and the ceilings suddenly rise, cathedral-like.

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink 8 Raffa Place Carlton 4 HOT: The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, 8 Raffa Place, Carlton

The lofty space is so amazingly bright that it’s hard to believe that there are no windows. The skylights that form the ceiling diffuse the light so beautifully across the wood and copper decor that even on a gloomy rainy winter’s day inside the cafe it feels like a spring day.

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink 8 Raffa Place Carlton 5 HOT: The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, 8 Raffa Place, Carlton

 I take a seat at the banquette and I’m immediately enamoured of the greenery frothing over the custom-made metal wall planters. They were designed by Glasshaus in Richmond and are irrigated using a narrow pipe and drip system harnessing water from the roof.

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink 8 Raffa Place Carlton 1 HOT: The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, 8 Raffa Place, Carlton

As the name suggest The Vertue of the Coffee Drink is a shrine to coffee. The unusual name comes from a promotional handbill from 1652 s advertising the first coffee house in London and the benefits of the brew.

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink 8 Raffa Place Carlton 10 HOT: The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, 8 Raffa Place, Carlton

There’s a glossy roaster on site, a temperature controlled glass cabinet displaying various beans and coffee paraphernalia lined up along the wooden stairwell that leads up to nowhere.

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink 8 Raffa Place Carlton 12 HOT: The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, 8 Raffa Place, Carlton

But if you’re a non-coffee drinker (like me) then there’s still a tea by Chamellia ($4.50), Mork Hot Chocolate ($4-5) and the Mad as a Hatter Chai with soy ($6) which comes in a hand beaten copper vessel.  They’re also licensed.

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink 8 Raffa Place Carlton 6 HOT: The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, 8 Raffa Place, Carlton

And then there’s the food. Oh my. A series of all -day breakfast dishes that you’re unlikely to find on every second menu around town – plus I like the fact that their lunch menu starts at 10:30am!

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink 8 Raffa Place Carlton 7 HOT: The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, 8 Raffa Place, Carlton

After some dithering between the scotch egg and chickpea chips I decide on the latter ($18). It’s an artistic array of charred zucchini, preserved pops of cherry tomatoes, shaved parmesan and two poached eggs, plus some unexpectedly fluffy sticks of deep-fried mashed chickpea. Even if you’re not vegetarian this is a dish worth trying.

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink 8 Raffa Place Carlton 9 HOT: The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, 8 Raffa Place, Carlton

From the ‘something sweet’ section I try the warmed spiced fruit loaf ($14). It’s a hearty serve of almost cake-like fruit bread toasted into wedges and served with a hemisphere of poached peach, vanilla gelato and an amaretti crumble.

I feel like I want to keep The Vertue of the Coffee Drink a secret hideout just for me . But this oasis from bustling Lygon Street is so fabulous in every way – decor, service, food, drinks – that I just have to share. Enjoy!

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, 8 Raffa Place, Carlton  (03) 8060 6987

Mon-Fri 7am-4pm

Sat-SuN 7.30am-4pm

 HOT: The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, 8 Raffa Place, Carlton